Philosophy Hammer
Philosophy, Economics, Politics & Psychology Tested with a Hammer

53: Slavoj Žižek part III:
Fantasy in Cyberspace and 'Woman doesn't Exist'

Summary by: Jeff McLaren

         As we saw last time fantasy is a necessary part of our identity which can help us cope and get along when functioning properly or it can hinder our lives when it become subversive. One mark of healthy personalities is that they can traverse their fantasy: that is change the fantasy in light of new circumstances. In his essay, “Is it Possible to Traverse the Fantasy in Cyberspace?” Žižek asks if cyberspace is conducive to or a hindrance to traversing the fantasy.
         Cyberspace has, inherent in its structure, a fantasy promoting property in its distancing-from-experience quality (Q1). This distancing-from-experience quality takes the form of interpassivity. Interpassivity refers to the actions we perform to fill the gap between feeling and expression: when we express but do not feel (Q2).
         Cyberspace fantasy falls into 4 categories. In the first category, there is a lifting of authority; or more precisely the reduction in symbolic efficiency. In such a case the Imaginary becomes more dominant relative to the Symbolic (Q3). In the second category, cyberspace enhances both inner desire and inner repression; both become stronger (Q4). In the third category, in the cyberspace game, the subject tries to be free of the Real by submitting to or setting up their own arbitrary rules (Q5). In the fourth category, cyberspace can free us from our fundamental fantasy by forcing us to recognize the fantasy's failure to support the subject in his/her alienation (Q6). Žižek writes: “...what we are claiming is that, in cyberspace … it is possible to accomplish what Lacan calls an authentic act, which consists in a gesture that disturbs ('traverses') the subject's fundamental fantasy. For Lacan a gesture counts as an act only in so far as it disturbs (unhinges) this most radical level of the subject's consistency....” (Q7)
         In his essay “Otto Weininger, or 'Woman doesn't Exist'” Žižek notes how a misogynist writer such as Otto Weininger seems to have come to the same conclusion as Lacan concerting the woman: woman does not exist. Weininger seems to have referred to woman as a race but Lacan seems to have referred to woman as a type rather than a gender or a sex. Where sex is related to biology and gender is related to culture, a type is related to psychology: in this essay “woman” refers to a psychological type (we might say a personality type) with certain social strategies and certain relations to the self. In the past when gender roles were much more clearly defined all women (of the female sex and gender) were of the type woman; today most people of the female sex are woman types (Q8).
         Weininger claimed that women were nothing but the thoughts of men – if men stop thinking about women (and sex) then there would be no need for women and therefore women do not exist except in the thoughts of men. Lacan and Žižek claim that Weininger is right but that his reasoning is totally off (Q9).
         Everyone of us is trying to find themselves; to learn who one is or what one will become. However it is an impossible task because the method we use to define ourselves (language) is never up to the task of defining reality fully. In other words there is and always will be a gap between the real and the Real on one hand and the Symbolic on the other (Q10).
         The woman and the man types behave differently when in comes to the an invasion of the phallic economy by ethical demands. Woman internalizes the invasion; man externalizes the invasion (Q11). Woman's internalization makes it unspeakable (and Lacan goes no further). Man's externalization creates the ideal of Love; with women (in general not the type) as the object of love. This results in two possible actions by the man type: 1) woman is put on a pedestal and worshiped as an untouchable god (the Virgin Mary for example) – one male fantasy of a woman that does not exist; or 2) the man type renounces phallic enjoyment for ethical duty with the secret fantasy and hope that doing so will seduce the woman type – but thereby in fact sacrificing woman (that does not exist) to duty (Q12). The woman type is simply unknowable (after all, what can male philosophers really possibly know about women): anything a man type says about a woman type is simply projection of the man's fantasies (Q13) therefore all of history's representations of women are not real but the projected fantasies of male writers.
         Q1 Does surfing the net actually distance you from real lived experience or could it be argued that cyberspace is a new actual experience?
         Q2 Some examples of interpassivity are: 1) celebrating at a wedding or mourning at a funeral for someone you are not close to; 2) laughing with the canned laughter in some sitcoms; and the best example 3) the Japanese toy called a Tamagochi. Žižek claims that all the active actions associated with these activities are an attempt to keep the Big Other's desire inactive (that is: passive) so as to avoid the realization that jouissance (conscious pleasure) cannot be really be obtained. Is it possible to feel something by just going through the motions? To the extent that some feelings are aroused, are they genuine? How satisfied would you be if your significant other was just going through the motions of loving you? Is real conscious pleasure ever possible from interpassivity?
         Q3 The Imaginary is the collection of lies our ego tells us to comfort us and hide the Real (such as the common belief that we are better than average). The Symbolic is the collection of symbols (such as language) we have to tame the Real. Do you see a possibility that the internet may enlarge our Imaginary at the expense of our Symbolic? What do you think may be the long term effects of online role playing games like “World of Warcraft” and “Eve Online”? Are there positive and negative effects of this?
         Q4 Cyberspace introduces us to many new possible experiences and serves as a tool of repression by making it harder to actually experience the new possibilities. How much more meaning full conversation do we engage in as a result of modern technology compared to letter writing and face to face communication? Does an addiction to online pornography make one more or less able to find a real live partner? Is desire and repression really increased in cyberspace?
         Q5 Computer game addiction is becoming a common phenomenon. Can you see something attractive in a world in which you know all the rules? In such a world there is excitement from the particular combinations of rules and there is the threat of death but there is no Real: no unspeakable horror. Does the prospect of losing and winning because you always deserve it sound more appealing than in the real world where people win and lose much more randomly?
         Q6 Žižek considers this option to be the most healthy but the least likely. Fantasy is our primary tool of ego integrity; but ego integrity can be debilitating. When our fantasies become harmful for our lives do you believe that cyberspace can alert us to this problem? Or do you think the first three fantasy enhancing categories will prevail?
         Q7 This seems to be the nature of free will for Lacan and Žižek: the choice to change your fantasy is the only authentic act. How does this strike you? Is it satisfying or depressing?
         Q8 Do you see any benefit to the distinction of type verses sex and gender?
         Q9 How does this idea strike you? How could it be correct?
         Q10 Can words ever capture who you are and/or what you are becoming precisely? How do you feel when some one else thinks they understand you through and through? When some one asks you 'what do you do?' and you answer with your profession; are you satisfied that that really captures all the significant parts of yourself?
         Q11 What do you think when hear the notion of: “internalization or externalization of ethical demands on the phallic economy”?
         Q12 literature written by men is full of idealized women who are meant to be served, the whole notion of chivalry expresses this idea. Do you believe it is a common male fantasy to have an touchable feminine master? Boys often love to talk about what they are going to do and they promise their girlfriends the world if they get married. Do men really do everything for sex? Are these the only to types of man available to women?
         Q13 Since the woman internalizes and the man externalizes; the man can be a subject of study much more easily than the woman type. Do you believe that: all man can know about woman is that she is unfathomable. Or is this just a male projection?

© 2008 - 2018, James Jeff McLaren